Tag Archives: college

7 Lessons Learned as a College RA

Anyone who has lived in a college dorm knows what an RA is. They are seen as either the bossy tools who go out of their way to keep you from having fun or the useless nobodies that get a free room to do nothing and let chaos run throughout the halls. Well, I worked as a college RA (Resident Advisor, or Resident Assistant in some universities) while in college, and eventually got promoted to an RD (Resident Director), and a lot of my college experiences happened from the point of view of those positions. Here are ten lessons learned from being an RA/RD:

3DN Landing Strip

The theme one year in one of my residence halls

1. An RA isn’t just that happy-go-lucky robot with a clipboard.

I thought I would start off by giving a clearer description of what an RA is and does, since I’m sure not many people are familiar. An RA is known as a Resident Advisor, or a Resident Assistant, in most colleges. The hiring process to become an RA is much more in depth than any other campus job (which I’ll describe in more detail a bit later), as the responsibilities of an RA range in many areas. The following are the typical tasks an RA of your school would be responsible for:

– Rule enforcer- Probably the most common task RAs are known for. They are in charge of abiding by the university residence hall policy and make sure students in their hall are following them as well. If they catch students not following policy, they are then to either give them warnings or write them up for a variety of punishments options.

– Room checks- Making sure that resident rooms in dorms and residence halls are clean, in proper living conditions, and ready for students to move in. Throughout the semester, they must ensure that the rooms continue to be in proper condition and do not present safety hazards to the students who live in it. They also must check the rooms when the students leave to make sure no damage has been done to it.

– Advising- This is where the “advisor” part comes into play. RAs are often put (whenever possible) in dorms with students in a major similar to themselves. RAs are trained to help students if they are having trouble with classes, with school, or even their personal lives. While not full-fledged counselors, RAs are given basic training to see if students are showing signs of depression, or giving basic counseling advice in emergency situations when a counselor isn’t available.

From my experience, most RAs get the compensation of a paid room to themselves. In many schools, that’s all they get (and sometimes they’ll even have to share a room with another RA). In other schools, RAs get some better benefits. In addition to a free room, some schools give RAs a stipend (ranging from $20-$100 a week), free meal plans, free travel expenses for conferences, free goodies (like shirts, office supplies, mugs, caps, etc), and gift certificates/gift cards.

2. The RA hiring process is very selective and thorough.

Unlike other campus jobs, the position of RA holds a lot of power and responsibility, so it is no question that the interview process will be very comprehensive. Since I don’t know how the interview process goes for every university in the country, I will merely provide the process for mine. I assume other schools are at least in a similar ball park.

The first step is the application. In addition to all the traditional application information that has to be provided, the RA application also puts you to answer essay questions that test your ethics and your desire to be an RA. If you hold the minimum GPA required and the questions show some ethical decision making and interest, you may be called to an interview. In that first interview, even more questions are asked in all sorts of different areas. You are given scenarios that RAs typically deal with and are asked how you would deal with them.

In addition, you are asked to prepare for the interview a 15 minute presentation of how your first RA ‘wing meeting’ will be (the initial meeting with your new residents at the beginning of the year). You are invited to be as creative as possible, and have decent knowledge of the housing policy handbook.

If you pass that interview, you will join a second group interview. All the candidates who have made it this far will be asked to participate in a one-day retreat kind of thing, where games will be played and team exercises will be performed. RDs and administrators will watch these games and see who works well with others and how these students perform in group settings. Being the loudest and most outgoing won’t necessary land you the job. It’s about being yourself, and not being afraid to take risks and talk to people. I would also recommend volunteering to be the first to do something in a game, even if you know you’ll make a fool of yourself. In that initial time when they ask for volunteers and everyone is quiet, that is the best time to shine.

If you get selected to continue, you go through the last interview. This is usually with the assistant or associate director of housing. They tend to ask even more prodding questions to find out more about you, including experiences you’ve had that you think would be relevant to the job, and case studies to truly see how you think. If you can make it past this 3rd interview, you’re almost an RA.

All that’s left is the RA class. In some universities it’s offered for elective credit, in others it isn’t. This class ranges from 1 month to 3 months, once or twice a week, and the class covers just about everything an RA will do: administration, counseling, community-building, activities and events hosting, and even how to dress and nonverbal communication.

If you get through the class and manage to complete your assignments, you get placed in a residence hall and a room, go through another week of intensive training (the class is more on theory, and the training is more on practice) the week before school starts, and voila! You’re an RA!

RA training is serious business.

RA training is serious business.

3. There are a lot of unadvertised perks of being an RA.

In my line of work, I’ve had several dinners with the university president, gotten backstage passes to Jeff Dunham and Tosh.O, and have even been picked as a volunteer for several hypnotists at my campus thanks to my VIP seating. In addition, I have been invited to complimentary trips to the Oshkosh aviation air show to represent our school, and other trips around the country for a variety of reasons.

The point I’m trying to make is that RAs receive many other benefits and opportunities than what you see in the job description. It really is a lot of fun and worth the experience. Plus, as student leaders, putting that you were an RA in college looks really good on resumes and grad school applications. It’s one of the most versatile campus involvements you can have since they deal with so many areas.

In addition, you will be very well-known on campus. As an RA, you participate in orientation events, rallying up students for orientation activities, games, and programs. You usually get to know all the students in the building, and more importantly, they get to know you. If you’re the super strict RA with the iron whip, the students will get to know you and avoid getting in trouble by you. If you make an effort to get to know the students, like saying hi in the hallway, going to the events you promote, etc., you will find that students will talk, and all of a sudden all sorts of people will be saying hi to you on campus, some you don’t even know. This will continue to grow every year that you’re an RA, until you become one of the most well-known students on campus, if you can handle that.

From personal experience, I went from a completely reserved, quiet student as a freshman on campus to one of the most well-known students in school. Case in point, I actually won Senior Class President my senior year and gave the graduation speech on graduation day. The biggest part of the popularity necessary to win that election was the people that I knew and the people that knew me.

It is a great feeling to have residents you had all year come back to you in their junior year and tell you thanks for helping shape their freshman year. Granted, many freshmen could care less, but there will be some that really appreciate your efforts.

4. Once you are an RA, you are always an RA.

Our university’s housing department had a motto about being an RA: It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. The reason for this is because you are an RA 24/7, whether you want to be or not. You can’t just “turn it off” when you go clubbing with your friends. Your residents will see you as their RA in the halls, and they’ll see you as an RA in the clubs. They will also see you as their RA ten years from now when you encounter them and their kids at Disney World.

Many university staff members and student affairs professionals started out as RAs. Once they realize they could make an entire career out of doing stuff like that, they went for it. I’m one of those people. I became an RA for life, so to speak. So if you don’t think you can handle the pressure of a job that becomes a part of your life, I wouldn’t recommend being an RA. Otherwise, it’ll be one of the most memorable jobs you’ll ever have.

5. Being a Resident Director (RD) is pretty awesome too.

I want to take some time to talk about a Resident Director. Simply put, it is an RAs supervisor. Rather than looking over a hall, they look over an entire building, and oftentimes several buildings at once. In many schools, these jobs are offered as full time positions. In others, they are offered as graduate assistantships to graduate students who want a place to live for grad school. In my school, however, you can get it as a promotion as an undergraduate if you applied.

The interview process is similar to that of an RA, but there are less people applying and you already know the interviewers very well. As for the job itself, it is amazing. Rather than a simple dorm, you get an entire full-fledged apartment. My apartment in particular had a bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, and two bathrooms, fully furnished.

The job is more administrative in nature. You usually have much more full control over the punishments you give out to students who break the rules. You also make big decisions as to changes you make to the buildings you are responsible for, such as adding additional study lounges, vending machines, or even restructuring room placements. You also often get to pick the RA staff you can work with, and hire and fire your staff as you see fit. It is a rewarding experience, and it is one of the only university jobs that I’ve ever seen where you are on just about equal footing to other university staff and administration.

The pay is much higher than an RA’s pay, and most universities will also give you a very generous meal plan and money for travel. However, there is also much more responsibility with the position. As the representative of my building, any cases too big for my RAs to handle were sent up to me. I had to deal with the suicide attempts, students caught with firearms, arson cases, sexual assault, and hate crimes. As the RD, it is not as easy as an RA to be the fun-loving, good guy.

In order to help your RAs out, sometimes you have to be the bad cop to the students in order to make your RAs the good cop. For those who watch Scrubs, think of Dr. Kelso. He has to make the tough decisions in the hospital and look like the bad guy so the rest of the staff doesn’t have to. With the kind of guy I am, that was the most difficult transition. But I found the perfect balance of being fun and easygoing with being tough and fair.

My RA staff at work.

My RA staff at work.

6. A typical day for an RA.

As an RA, my typical day consisted of a variety of different things depending on the day. Other than normal student things such as classes, and RA has to have at least somewhat of a presence in their residence hall every day (so no extended trips where you’ll be gone for more than a day without approval). Though you can usually dodge this one if you just ask a fellow RA to watch your hall for you. RAs also have a couple of meetings they need to attend a week. The two most common are staff meetings and committee meetings. Staff meetings are run by the RD that goes over issues in the building, in the school, or relaying other work-related information. Some RDs also make it a group bonding time and play games or go out for dinner or some type of social activity since RAs are often like family to each other. RAs are also occasionally asked to serve in committees for school events, such as student appreciation, staff appreciation, resident hall Olympics, Relay for life, etc. They also have to go to those meetings.

Also, at least once a week, if not more, an RA is on duty. This means that they may not leave the building they live in for a 12 hour period for any reason. In addition, they have to serve anywhere between 2-6 hours of desk duty, where they must man the front desk of their building to answer questions for students or provide general customer service. Most RAs use this time to socialize with friends who join them during the downtime or do their homework. It’s also how you catch up to the dorm gossip since you’re in the middle of everything.

RAs also have to fill out weekly email reports to their RDs telling them how their residents are doing and have occasional one-on-one meetings with their RDs to tell them how they are doing.

Lastly, RA should constantly be making events and social functions for their residents, like movie nights, bowling nights, dinner, games, etc to keep the community feeling in the dorm. You know you have a good RA when they constantly supply a good range of activities for you to do throughout the year.

7. Some stories from my RA days.

In my line of work, I deal with all sorts of situations, some serious, others humorous. Here are some examples:

The pranksters– I had two “factions” of residents across the hall from each other who pranked each other nonstop, each one upping the ante on the pranks. They would super glue their keyholes, put live cockroaches in their rooms, steal their hats and drop them in the toilet, vandalize their doors with shaving cream, and all sorts of things. This was an interesting but challenging situation.

The shower lockout– The bathrooms in the building I lived in were outside the rooms and required a key for entry. I’ve been woken up several times at all times of the night by guys and girls in a towel who got themselves locked out of the showers and their bedroom. Why do so many people shower at 3 in the morning?

Alcohol poisoning– I ran into a freshman throwing up in the bathroom from alcohol poisoning from drinking too much at a party. He wouldn’t stop throwing up and would occasionally lose consciousness as his friend tried to keep his head up. I had to call the ambulance and have them take him to the hospital. I was told that he was so intoxicated it could have killed him if he didn’t get the medical attention when he did.

Topless wrestling in the halls– This isn’t what you think. For some reason, one year I had a hallway full of guys that for some reason always wrestled each other in the hallway with their shirts off at 3 in the morning. I would come out of my room, exhausted and angry to yell at them, only to see wide-eyed what was going on. I would tell them to keep it in the bedrooms and I went back to bed. Never understood that one.

Hall Wars– There were two dorm halls that were competing with each other for the best hall. Each time a hall put up decorations or set up an activity, the other hall would put up something better. I still remember during Halloween where the competition got so fierce, when you walked into the hallways you felt like you were literally walking into a Halloween town. The walls were covered with wallpaper, spider webs and spiders sticking out, mechanical ghosts on strings flying back and forth, pumpkins by all the room entrances, and an orange glow emitting from the lights. It was amazing.

The Spring Break Snake– A resident apparently had a pet snake in their room and left it there when he left for spring break. The snake managed to get out and scared the crap out of one of my RAs (I was RD at the time) when they were doing health and safety inspections. They had to call animal control to take the snake away. The student was furious.

The sorority birthday surprise– As an RA, I ran into a group of girls keying into another girl’s room with a coat hanger. When I confronted them, they told me they were a fraternity who wanted to fill the pledge’s room with balloons and gifts. I told them that the gesture was nice, but that they were breaking the rules by keying into a room as it is considered trespassing. I didn’t write them up, but told them they had to leave. Unfortunately, I caught them doing it again later and had to write them up.

The Stinky Roommate– I had a complaint from one of my male residents once about having a roommate who’s stench could raise the dead. When I walked into the room, I could confirm that he did, indeed, stink. It was one very awkward conversation I had to have with that resident.

The Tree hugger– I had to take a guy to a hospital because he ran into a tree. No joke. He ran into a tree and knocked himself out.

The beer smuggler. There were about 5 other RAs and I chilling at the front desk one night. One smart freshman decides to walk in right through the front door with a 12 pack of miller and walk right past us. We almost felt like writing him up for two counts: one for alcohol and one for stupidity.

The loud couple– Had to deal with a noise complaint constantly about a couple who were too loud when “going at it.”

The dump hall– For a while, there was a hall that was so dirty, that even the RA was scared to go in it. Garbage was everywhere and the students even looked like hobos. I had to send a cleanup crew to take care of that mess.

My RA staff... still at work.

My RA staff… still at work.

High School vs. College

In high school… you don’t want to leave the house.
In college… your parents don’t want you to leave the house.

In high school… your teachers never leave the school
In college… you never leave the school

You’re not in college until you’ve spent the whole night in a classroom or lab working on an assignment.

In high school… once school was done, you were done.
In college… once school is done, your day is just getting started.

“This isn’t what I had in mind when I joined the forestry club.”

In high school… you have to deal with the burn-outs.
In college… you can leave them behind.

“So long, suckers.”

In high school… you get picked on for liking nerdy things.
In college… nerdy things make you popular.

In high school… social status meant everything.
In college… no one cares.

“Please, tell us more about how cool you are.”

In high school… sleep was for the weak.
In college… sleep is the greatest gift ever.

In high school…  you cannot wait to be an adult.
In college… you wish you were a kid again.

“I really hope this isn’t on the final.”

Top 5 crazy college headlines of 2013

We’ve all heard that college is a time to let loose and live a little, but these college-related headlines of 2013 really take that to the next level. From ball-riding to abortion battles, university life is full of crazy shenanigans that… strangely enough… don’t involve alcohol.

5. Kansas University boobs website told to cease and desist for selling merchandise.

KUboobs

In an effort to support their sports team, the Kansas Jayhawks, the students of Kansas University started a unique cheering campaign called KU Boobs. Which, as the name implies, consists of various pics of female KU students displaying their cleavage in support of their team. It started with one random student showing her support with the use of a cell phone camera. A twitter account was started shortly after, and sure enough, the twitter account had over 56,000 followers within a short span of time. More information of the story can be found in this Huffington Post news article.

The university, understandably, sent a cease and desist letter to the owners of the twitter account. By this point, the group had a Facebook page, Tumblr page, and many campuses across the country had created their own versions of the group. But here’s where the headline really gets crazy. The university didn’t have a problem with the KU Boobs movement; they had a problem with the merchandise they were selling.

On his own Twitter feed, Athletic Director Jim Marchiony had the following thing to say:

“We’ve asked them to stop selling that merchandise, not to shut down the Twitter account. Rock Chalk!”

So, in essence, they had no problem with the sites that used KU’s name, just the merchandise that used KU’s name.

4. University of Texas conservative students hold an affirmative action bake sale.

o-UT-BAKE-SALE-570

Huffington Post

Fundraisers are a normal part of having a student organization. And for many, fighting for a cause is another. However, few organizations have incorporated the two in a way that the Young Conservatives of Texas did at the University of Texas.

In an effort to demonstrate that affirmative action is “demeaning to minorities”, the group decided to hold a bake sale. However, in this bake sale, the price of the baked goods differed based on your race and your gender. White students had to pay the highest amount, while Native American students paid the lowest price.

-2

Huffington Post

Gregory J. Vincent, the university vice president for diversity and community engagement, called the bake sale “inflammatory and demeaning,” as well as “deplorable.” Defenders of the bake sale claimed that they were standing up for America.

o-UT-BAKE-SALE-570-2

Huffington Post

3. NYC College students pretend to kill babies in an “Abortion Battles” game.

The New York Post has an article on a video that went viral that included some college students in NYC filmed playing a game called “Abortion Battles”. The game consists of two students who put a balloon under their shirt, then proceed to joust at each other until one pretends to kill the baby of the other.

Seriously, you cannot make this stuff up. Here’s the footage of the game in action:

Marco Rosales, who posted the video, wrote, “We were introduced to this epic game called `Abortion Battles.’ It’s somewhat unorthodox, but it’s really fun! Lol!.”

Such a game drew controversy nationwide, with many spokespeople voicing their opinion on the tastelessness of the game. University officials made it clear that this was something concocted by the students, and was in no way a university-sanctioned event.

2. University of Michigan takes down wrecking ball sculpture after students attempted to ride it… naked.

article-pendulum-0918

NY Daily News

A giant pendulum in Grand Valley State University in Michigan had to be taken down after students attempted to straddle it naked, according to an article by NY Daily News.

The reason they did it? They were attempting to replicate Miley Cyrus’ new “Wrecking Ball” video.

‘The ball has been taken down due to the safety hazard of people riding on it,’  according to a student-run university Twitter account, which quoted a dean.

Dozens of pictures and videos popped up almost overnight of students riding the public art display.

1. Chinese students attend a cram school from hell to qualify for college entrance exams.

gaokao_china_aap

SBS.com

The Chinese equivalent to the American SATs or ACTs is a hypercompetitive college entrance exam, which according to a popular saying, resembles an army of 10,000 students rushing across a narrow log.

The test lasts about two to three days, lasts 17 hours a day, and goofing off can get you arrested. What’s more, the score you get on this test comprises the majority of your college application. If you don’t meet the university’s minimum scores, you have no chance of getting in. To make things worse, the requirements for poorer students from rural areas are higher than those of the wealthier students who live in the city near the universities.

And to make things worse, the questions range from the medium-difficulty SAT questions in American exams, to really bizarre questions such as this one:

“It flies upward, and a voice asks if it is tired. It says, ‘No.’

An article on this Australian news site talks about particular schools students attend such as Maotanchang High School. These schools are known as “cram schools”, where they use military-style test prep to get students ready for the gaokao (the name of the college entrance exam). These schools are big business. They attract students and families from all over the country, and they carry quite a hefty price, costing as much as $8,000 for the cram program.

Inside the walls of these schools, students study all day, every day. Their methods can sometimes be considered extreme. One of the classrooms, for example, is equipped with intravenous drips filled with amino acid to assist students (seen in picture above). These schools are typically located in small towns, and their success makes the town’s economy completely revolve around them.

So the next time you have to stress about choosing the right college or university, at least keep in mind that your barrier to entry is nothing like this.

Top 10 mistakes college students make

I could probably publish a book of all the blunders and faux pas I experienced throughout my years of college. There’s just no escaping it. In order to truly learn in any environment, mistakes need to be made.

However, some mistakes are avoidable. Through talks with students I’ve worked with, friends I’ve confided with, and my own experiences, I’ve compiled the top ten mistakes students make in college, and how you can be a step ahead and avoid them. Below are the top 10 mistakes students make while at college.

10. Joining too many clubs or organizations

Everyone else is doing it…

It’s very easy to get involved in college. From the moment you step foot on campus, everyone’s telling you about the amazing organizations on campus and the wonderful opportunities to get involved and meet new people. You hear the same thing at orientation, sometimes with representatives of those organizations coming to talk to you. Then, you have the activities fair once classes start, where every organization attempt to recruit you with cookies, goodies, prizes, raffles, and free pizza. And it doesn’t end there. The rest of the year, no matter where you go, you will be inundated with emails, fliers, and handbills about their meetings, events, trips, and fundraisers.

Now don’t get me wrong, getting involved is amazing. I would not be where I am today if not for all the relationships I formed through my organizations. But it can be very easy to sign up for every interesting organization to see and say “yes” to every opportunity. They make it seem so easy. Just sign your name here to be on their email list, come to a weekly or bi-weekly meeting, and voila! You’re involved!

What many freshmen don’t know, however, is that organizations take a lot of work to maintain. What starts off as a simple meeting quickly evolves into many responsibilities to function. An organization that does nothing but meets serves no purpose. There will be more events and they will expect you to help out. So here you are, joining three, four, or five organizations, and all of a sudden they convince you to sign up to work the bake sale fundraiser, help with their homecoming float, put up fliers, hand out pamphlets, and go shopping for supplies. And typically, this will all happen when you are drowning in homework and midterms are right around the corner.

I’ve seen many a student stressed out from too much responsibility. At this point, one of two things tends to happen. The first is that you try to do it all. You follow through with your commitments, and the quality of your work suffers as a result. You struggle to finish your assignments and study adequately for tests, and you do the absolute minimum to get by with your organizational responsibilities. Your GPA then takes a hit and you have to reconsider your priorities next semester. The second possibility is that you just quit the organizations. Easy, right? One thing you must consider when you do this is the organizations you have committed yourselves to. Organizations struggle constantly getting a keeping members, mostly because they experience this situation all the time. They have students sign up and then quit when they realize what they’ve gotten themselves into. Every student that quits hurts the organization, as that’s one set of hands that they counted on that suddenly disappears. This then makes you look bad in their eyes.

To avoid all of this hassle, just think it through what organizations you want to join when you start college. Pick one or two and stick with them, at least towards the end of the semester. If they aren’t for you, you can start fresh. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to get involved in college, so don’t feel rushed to do everything at once.

9. Living off campus if you have the means to live on campus

“Great, looks like I’ll be late again!”

I want to start this off by being clear as to which students I am and am not referencing with this statement. I am NOT referring to students who live off campus because they are part time, nontraditional, or otherwise are paying their way through college themselves and cannot afford to stay on campus. I am referring to students who do have the means to stay on campus, but choose not to.

There are many out there, and I have seen time and time again those same students drop out from lack of involvement. They don’t really feel included, like a part of the campus, and they end up withdrawing. And even if they do not withdraw, they graduate missing a lot of what employers look for when hiring an employee. Studies have overwhelmingly shown that students who live off campus are less likely to get involved in on-campus organizations, leadership workshops and experiences, use on-campus resources such as tutoring labs, and apply for (and get) internships.

This is true for all students, but it’s doubly true for freshmen. If you are a freshman, I recommend that you do all that you can to live on campus, at least your first year. Many colleges require freshmen to live on campus their first year. However, if you live within a certain distance from the campus (usually around 30-40 miles), you are exempt for this. My suggestion is that, if you are already taking financial aid or student loans to pay for school, take in that extra aid to live on campus, at least that first year. Make connections, meet people, and get involved. It will pay off big time later on.

Living on campus is what gave me the opportunities to apply for a program which, following a chain of events, paid for my entire graduate school education. That extra amount of money I paid for my residence hall my first year saved me tens of thousands of dollars as I got my master’s degree. I speak this from experience.

8. Treating college classes like high school classes

This one is mostly aimed at my high school readers, but I know of many college students who can use this reminder. One of the first things you’ll notice getting to college is that college classes are nothing like high school classes. Professors have certain expectations from you and assume you will meet them. In many classes, attendance isn’t mandatory. Tests are much fewer and far between, sometimes just consisting of a midterm and final. A professor won’t say anything if you have to leave class to answer your phone or use the bathroom. You can just get up and go. You are much more independent, and you will find that they will let you get away with a lot more.

But as a result, you are responsible for the consequences of your actions, and your professor won’t hesitate to fail you if you’re not trying. When they give you an assignment to read a chapter, they will expect you to read the chapter. Many will discuss the chapter in the next class with the assumption that you read it. Be prepared to answer a question from the readings or take a pop quiz. Even if they don’t check on you with a pop quiz or discuss it at the next class, nothing is stopping them from putting it on the test.

A lot of time, professors will give you a study guide for exams, but that is not always the case. They will expect you to take the appropriate notes and develop a studying technique that will work for you. If you have any questions about an assignment, they will expect you to attend their office hours and ask them. You can’t show up the day the assignment is due and say you had a question about it, because you had your chance.

The lesson here is that you are not in high school anymore. Professors will treat you like an adult, but they also expect you to act like an adult. Show up to class, come prepared, and take responsibility for your actions. And whatever you do, do not cheat. It is cheap, tasteless, and an insult to you or a professor. I’ve noticed that college professors are a lot more understanding and flexible than high school teachers, so when you cheat, it is understandable that they will punish you to the fullest extent that they can. They are putting their trust that you will act honestly, and breaking that trust can have harsh consequences.

7. Partying on Sundays

Taking “case of the Mondays” to a whole other level.

This one was given to me by a student who fell prey to this exact situation. In college, there are parties. And more likely than not, you will go to at least one of them. However, while you’re out at that friend’s house or the club certainly not drinking underage or doing other illegal things, do not do so on Sundays. I am not sure why this is even a thing, as I don’t remember many Sunday parties while I was in college.

But for some reason, this trend is growing, and students are staying out late on Sundays past midnight. The next morning, the college campus looks like a zombie apocalypse, with students dragging their feet over to class, many drunk beyond belief, but others just lacking much-needed rest. If you’re going to party, please party responsibly. This message was brought to you by College For The Win.

6. Slacking off

“Due tomorrow? Okay, I’ll do tomorrow.”

This one is a no-brainer, but it happens very often so I have to include it. Procrastination is a big part of this. Students will wait until the last minute to do their homework or finish a project. Then, all of a sudden, the internet is down, or their computer malfunctions and deletes their paper, or an emergency sends someone to the hospital. Aside from that last one, you’ll have a difficult time getting a professor to extend their deadline for your assignment if you waited until the last minute to start it. In college, you’ll learn very quickly that you need to develop a timeline for your projects so that you don’t start working on them the night before they’re due.

Slacking off also means just lounging around. This is increasingly popular with college freshmen nowadays. When not in class, they will just loaf around. They’ll loaf around on their bed. They’ll loaf around on their couch. They’ll loaf around on someone else’s bed or someone else’s couch. Don’t fall under this trap. Loafing around will make you lazy and will suck the energy right out of you. You will quickly realize you have no will to do anything and will further promote procrastination. Make it a habit to throw in some study time between classes, while your brain is still active. Keep yourself going throughout the day, being productive in some way. By the end of the day, you will feel much better and much more accomplished. Once you do loaf around during the weekend, you will feel like you’ve earned it.

5. Carelessly using your meal plans

“This should hold me over until dinner.”

I’ve seen meal plans misused two ways: students will either be careless and use them all up before the semester is over, or they will stockpile them and have too many left over.

The first group are the types that not only use their meal plans to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but will also treat their roommate to a meal, their friend, their visiting family, their dog, and that man down the street they just met. They will use the point system in that plan to buy snacks at the convenience store, and to buy stuff in businesses outside the campus that support meal plans. These students will suddenly realize they’ve used up or are about to use up their meal plans by November, and will have to be eating Ramen Noodles for the rest of the semester.

The second group are the types that are too careful for their meal plan. Fully afraid of falling into group one, group two will be as stingy with their meal plans as possible. They refuse to eat breakfast, eat free meals whenever possible, and don’t even think about asking them to let you use their card. By the end of the semester, they have tons of leftover meal plans that they don’t know what to do with. Since meal plans do not roll over from semester to semester, they are forced to cash them out with more snacks and treats than they know what to do with.

You don’t need to fall into either of these groups. The key word here is moderation. Just do some simple math with the amount of meals you get every semester and ration them off. Make a plan and stick to them. That might help you from making the next mistake on the list:

 

4. Eating terribly

A college student’s kryptonite.

At some point in your life, you’ve heard of the Freshman 15. For those who haven’t, it’s as simple as it sounds. Once you have the freedom to eat whatever you want in college, it’s very easy to gain fifteen pounds your first year as you learn how to eat correctly.

This isn’t just limited to freshmen, though. You can be susceptible to unhealthy eating any year you are in college. I’ve noticed that many juniors and seniors will fall victim to terrible eating habits. They become so busy with managing their time between school, work, and other outside commitments, that they barely leave time to eat. They typically take quick “to-go” foods that are low on the nutritional meter and don’t typically have time to exercise properly.

The food pyramid does not disappear when you’re in college. Be sure to provide fruits and vegetables in your diets, and balance out your proteins and your carbs. Most universities have at least one type of buffet-type eating establishment. Use that to get as many fruits and vegetables as you want.

It’s very easy in college to eat out a lot. Almost every evening, I had a different group of friends invite me out to eat to hang out, one night at Panera’s, and the next at Ihop. In addition to eating unhealthy, it will take quite a chunk of your change to keep up that lifestyle. Watch what you eat and exercise regularly. The habits you develop in college will follow you for the rest of your life, so be sure to lay down the roots early.

3. Verbal diarrhea on facebook

“OMG! He looked at me! This is going on Facebook! And Twitter! And Instagram! In fact, cancel my appointments. This will take a while.”

This one holds a special place in my heart, because I am constantly amazed at the amount of things I see online from people I know, students and nonstudents alike. Verbal diarrhea is what I call posts and status updates that were obviously not thought through before posted. And this isn’t just limited to facebook. Twitter, instagram, flickr, photobucket, any social website with an opportunity to implicate yourself.

In college, it is very common for students to friend their professors and university staff on facebook. Likewise, it’s not unusual for them to follow you on twitter. With that in mind, let me leave you a word of advice: do not talk about that crazy party you went to last night and how drunk you were if you’re under 21 and are friends with the conduct officer at your university. Likewise, do not post pictures of you with a case of Miller lite in your dorm if you’re friends with your resident director. And please, oh please, do not put a facebook status about your boring class when not only are you friends with that professor, BUT YOU’RE POSTING THAT STATUS WHILE YOU’RE IN THEIR CLASSROOM!

All of these have indeed happened, and all of those students have indeed been caught. Look, I understand that we’re all human, and I’d be naïve to think that everyone is a perfect little angel that does no wrong. But please, I don’t need to read about it. I’ve run an orientation program at a university before, and I don’t need to know how drunk you got after your first night on campus. I’m not going to call you out on it, but it’s kind of hard to take you seriously when I see you the next day at orientation when I see how carelessly you post things.

What you post online creates an image of you. Just as professors and staff see you facebook profile, employers will see your facebook profile to find out more about you. Go ahead and do a little test. Pretend you are your potential employer in your dream job. Now go to your facebook (or twitter) profile and scroll through it, knowing nothing but what’s on that profile. What does it currently say about you? What can you gather from the status updates and pictures you’ve posted? I understand the notion of freedom of expression and all of that, but a little tact has never hurt anyone.

2. Bad money management

If only…

This is something not only college students are victims of, but people of all ages. Heck, I’m struggling with this as I type this! When you start college, you are going to have a new set of experiences that will challenge you financially. For many of you, you will get your first job. For others, your first bank account. In college, many students get their first credit card, their first major loan (student loans), their first car, and will have to file their own taxes for the first time. Yet, not learning how to manage all of these properly can really screw your credit over, credit that you will need for when you plan to buy a house or make any large purchases once you graduate college. Even if you don’t worry about getting any of those things, simply not building credit can hurt you. Banks and credit companies want to see a strong credit history. They want to know you can manage debt. College is the best place to practice these skills. Many times, they will offer workshops on building credit, or managing your money, or opening a bank account. Keep an eye out for these workshops, as they are free and very valuable tools for you to use.

Be careful with any money you earn from refund checks from your university. Refund checks typically are a result of an overpayment from your financial aid or from a loan. When requesting a loan for the year, only get enough to cover your school expenses. Even though many student loans allow for using the loans for “indirect” college expenses such as a car, a laptop, groceries, and clothes, try to resist the temptation to do so. Student loans add up very quickly. If you get a refund check, put it back towards more direct school expenses. Or put it in a savings account to use later to pay back your loans. It never hurts to have a financial cushion.

1. Not getting to know your professor

“I just wanted to say thanks for all your help in helping me get to where I am today. And to let you know that we voted on “The Hobbit” for our movie night this weekend.

I listed this mistake as the number one not because it’s the one with the most to lose, but because it’s the one with the most to gain. In college, it’s okay to befriend a professor. It’s not weird to see them at Wal-mart or at the movie theater. Unlike high school and elementary school teachers, they do live outside the school! (I kid, I kid teachers!)

Your professor is an amazing resource that many students don’t take advantage of. The professor in any given field is likely to have contacts and networks in that field. If you want to be an accountant, and your accountant professor used to work in an accounting firm, don’t you think it would be a good idea to get to know that person better? Now, I’m not saying to brown nose your professor to get in good favor. It’s more about visiting them in their office hours when you have a question about an assignment versus going to the tutoring lab. It’s about genuinely asking them a question about their research after class ends.

Through my professors, I have made many connections for jobs, research opportunities, scholarships, and graduate school recommendations. Moreso, by building a relationship with your professor, they are more likely to give you a glowing, detailed recommendation when you apply for a job or scholarship. Graduate schools look more favorable at students who are known by their professors. It suggests that they are really there to learn and make the most of their college experience.

Professors are often the experts in their field, with most of them holding PHDs in work that they are passionate about. They love to talk about their work, and there is a lot to gain by listening to them. Professors make great mentors, people who you can stay in contact with for the rest of your life. I’ve had friends who had their professors attend their weddings, as well as their baby showers. By just going to class, doing your homework, passing your tests, and graduating, you are missing out on a lot of what makes college such an amazing experience.

 

So there you have it. The top 10 mistakes made by college students. Learn from the others who went through it before you. Feel free to leave a comment below on any mistakes you’ve seen or experienced in college.

What college taught me about diversity

The word “diversity” has been thrown around a lot lately. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a place that isn’t promoting it in some way. Just take a look at these snippets from company mission statements:

ESPN– “ESPN will embrace diversity to better serve our fans and customers. We strive to attract and retain talented and diverse people, and to create an inclusive environment where all employees can contribute to their fullest potential…”

Starbucks– “Together, we embrace diversity to create a place where each of us can be ourselves. We always treat each other with respect and dignity. And we hold each other to that standard…”

Hyundai– “Diversity is our strength and the foundation on which we expect to grow. Here at Hyundai, we foster an environment where everyone feels welcome to be who they are…”

And good luck finding a college or university that doesn’t include the word “diversity” or a synonym somewhere in its mission or values. In a society with increasing global awareness and affirmative action, “diversity” is the new buzzword businesses of all types use to relay the message that they care, and that they are inclusive and embrace new ideas. But have you really stopped to think about what that word means? What comes to your mind when someone mentions it?

A lot of people (myself included) will immediately think towards race. But that is only part of it. Diversity can include someone’s religion, gender, weight, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, and many other factors. There’s a reason people and companies make such a big deal about it, because it is a big deal. But what makes college so special regarding this topic, special enough to have a blog post dedicated to it?

When I first started college, I was a quiet, sheltered young man who mostly kept to himself and only ever knew what his parents taught him. I didn’t watch much TV growing up, and living in the inner city in northern New Jersey, I was only ever really familiar with the Hispanic culture around me. Going to a predominantly-White college campus was quite the eye-opener for me, but not in the way that you would think.

Yes, being a Latino from New Jersey and seeing so many White students at my university in Florida was different, but that paled in comparison to the amount of diversity that I found once I entered college. So many viewpoints, so many beliefs, so many backgrounds. Students who had previously been stationed overseas prior to going to college. Sons and daughters of senators and CEOs. Students who have been to jail. International students from all parts of the world, experiencing the United States for the first time. It was unbelievable!

I’ve seen many  people describe college as a salad bowl, where students from different cultures and backgrounds all come together to interact for four years like some kind of large-scale reality show. I met roommates who couldn’t be more different or incompatible having to share a tiny space for an entire year before being allowed to switch rooms. Classrooms were full of students with different ideas, who, to my surprise, would constantly argue and debate with each other and even their professors. I witnessed fights that would break out because of political viewpoints or even sports team affiliation. Sometimes I figured I could walk around with a camcorder and record everything that went on in a college campus and make a killing from some type of TV show.

But that wasn’t even my biggest surprise going into college. Yes, college tends to have the most diversity out of any other location you’ll experience in your life. Yes, you learn to tolerate opposing beliefs and even embrace them sometimes. Yes, you could make a friend you would otherwise never even talk to under different circumstances. But do you know what is the most valuable lesson that college taught me about diversity?

That outside of these superficial characteristics, we are not different at all. I was friends with a guy for two years before I learned that his family was wealthy beyond all means. He came from wealth, yet he was still just a poor college student trying to find his way through life. I had just as much trouble finding my way around the college town as a friend of mine from Africa who had never set foot into this country prior to coming to college. Despite all of our different reasons for coming to college, we all had the same goal: to broaden our minds and get our degree.

We all live in a wonderfully-colorful world, but we all have the same motivations, the same struggles, and the same joys. Rather than promote diversity by solely focusing on our differences, why don’t we also focus on what makes us all similar?

How to choose the right college or university

colleges collage

College applications have been filled out, transcripts submitted, and campus tours scheduled. Only one problem: there are so many colleges to choose from! Considering you are going to spend the next four years there (or five, or six… it happens), this isn’t a decision you can take lightly. And even worse, obsessing over making the “correct” decision could wear you out easily, and could even cause you to delay the decision (I’ve had many friends to whom this happened). However, choosing the right college or university does not have to be a stressful task. The key to choosing the right college or university is to come up with a structured plan. The first step of that plan is to decide what you value most in a college. Everyone has different priorities, so you shouldn’t make your college decision just because that’s where your friend or significant other is going.

To find out what you value most in college, take a look at the below primary and secondary college traits many of my students have looked at in the past. Rank your top five primary traits and focus on those. Once you find a few colleges that meet your top five requirements, take a look at the rest of the traits to pick the one that best fits your needs.

Type of college

A good starting point would be to decide the type of college you want to go to. You’ll be surprised to find that there are many types of colleges, some that you may have never even heard of. Do you want to go to a large state university with a well-known football team? A private liberal arts college in a small college town? A two-year community college in a big city? Take a look at my earlier post on the different types of colleges for more information on which type of college would best fit your needs.

Focus of the college

The focus of the college is often related to the type of college, but not always. The focus of the college relates to who they are targeting, as well as what they consider to be most important. The easiest way to do this is through a quick perusal of their website. Go to the college’s home page and take a look at the design. What do you see? The bright university colors with their mascot and logo in the background? A more conservative, business-like background with a listing of academic programs? A welcome from the university president to showcase the close-knit campus community?

Now browse through the website. See what they emphasize. Commuter-friendly colleges will highlight their evening classes and flexible schedules, while state universities will highlight their expansive campuses and list of amenities. Many private universities will list their high rankings and awards, while large, online colleges will focus on their large, established networks of graduates and alumni.

Geographical location

If you live on the east coast, do you think you can stand going to a university located in the dry plains of Arizona? Maybe that’s exactly what you want, experiencing something new in a location you’ve never been to. Geographic location can play a big part in your college experience. It can affect many parts of your life, with factors such as weather, culture, and even landscaping playing a big role.

This was a big deal for me, since I experienced culture shock going from New Jersey to Florida for my undergraduate degree, and then from Florida to Oklahoma for my graduate degree. But they were both amazing experiences I would never take back. It opened my mind in ways that no other experience in my life could compare. Don’t underestimate the power of a college’s location.

Distance from home

I’ll be honest, when I was college hunting, this was on my top three list of priorities. Hispanic families are typically very close, and mine was no exception. I wanted to make sure that I was never too far away from my family, wanting to be at the very least within driving distance from them. Perhaps you are the same way. Or perhaps, you want to get as far away from your family as possible. That’s fine, I won’t judge.

In any case, keep in mind that the distance your college is from your home will affect how often you can go home, as well as how expensive. If you get homesick easily and don’t think you can stay away from the fam, perhaps it’s not the best idea to travel across the country. It’ll cost you your future first born and both your legs for a plane ticket, and you’ll only get to see them twice a year (three if you decide to go home for spring break instead of joining your friends to that road trip across Europe).

Cost of college

Like many things in life, it all comes down to the money. This is typically the first thing your parents will look at before they agree to write you a check or co-sign your student loan for you. There’s not much to say about cost that you don’t already know. The idea here is to find the cheapest college that meets all your needs. However, cost isn’t as important a factor when you consider the next factor:

Financial Aid

Let’s be real here, unless your parents work for a university or can print money, you won’t be able to afford college. Fortunately, there are several sources of financial aid such as grants, loans, scholarships, and work study. Grants, such as the federal Pell Grant, are need-based scholarships that aid you based on your (and your parents’) income. Loans are just that: borrowed money. It is fairly easy to qualify for student loans. Just make sure you aim for the subsidized loans instead of unsubsidized. Subsidized loans do not accrue interest while you’re in college; unsubsidized loans do. Scholarships vary widely, depending on who offers them. They can be offered by university alumni, wealthy individuals, corporations, or non-profit organizations. Some may be need-based, but a lot are based on other factors, such as grade point average, volunteer hours, leadership experience, and essay construction. If you are eligible for work study, you can get an on-campus job to help you pay for books, groceries, and other incidentals.

Different colleges have different amounts and types of aid. Be sure to ask about what is offered at your prospective colleges either by calling their financial aid office or during your campus tour. You can also search online for various independent scholarships.

Academic Program

No university has every possible academic program. And just because a university offers a particular program, it doesn’t mean it’s any good. If the quality of the academic program is high on your priority list, then it would be in your best interest to find out as much as you can about it. How many full time faculty does that program have in a particular college? How many students apply and how many do they accept? What are their entrance requirements? How many of their students graduate and how many are employed afterwards in their desired field? Does the program make any national rankings? Is it well-known nationwide?

Secondary Traits

Once you’ve narrowed down your colleges to the top two or three, you may find that it can be particularly difficult to choose between them. If you’ve looked at all the primary traits above and still can’t make a decision, be sure to consider these secondary traits. While not as important, they could make enough of a difference for a tie-breaker.

Range of Programs

About 80 percent of college students change their major in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. A lot of times it’s a major in a completely different field. If you are undecided on your major or aren’t 100 percent on the one you’ve chosen, you may want to consider a college with a wide range of program options, just in case you decide to switch. That way, you’ll have a good range to choose from. If you go to ITT Tech and then decide to become a Philosophy major, you’ll be out of luck. And changing universities is a lot tougher than changing majors.

The community around the college

Every now and then, you just want to get out of the college environment to get your mind off of things. If you live in a college town, good luck finding that escape. You’ll find students, faculty, and staff everywhere. If you want an out, you’ll have to drive to the city, which could be quite a while away. And outside of a few bars and yogurt shops, there won’t be much in the way of entertainment.

Colleges located in the city have more access to more things. You don’t have to drive far to find just about anything you need. But you do have to deal with the extra traffic and the higher crime rates that are typical for larger cities.

Dining options

If you’re planning to live on campus, you may want to see what types of dining options they offer. After all, that’s where you will be eating the majority of the year. A quick stop at their dining hall during your campus tour should give you a pretty good preview of what to expect.

Social Climate

This one is really hard to measure. However, you can just feel it in your gut. When you visit a college, be sure to see the students that go there. What’s the campus culture like? Do you see yourself fitting into that world? Would it be too much of a culture shock? I’ve attended two universities and worked at two, and it is amazing just how different the social climates were for all of them.

The Different Types of Colleges

Colleges and UniversitiesThere are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Crazy, huh? Do you ever wonder why we need so many? For one thing, colleges can serve a bunch of different needs. As a result, different types of colleges have been created to meet the needs of their particular niche. Below are the types of colleges you may encounter in your college search.


Community Colleges

Community colleges are two-year colleges that can serve a variety of functions, such as providing associate degrees, providing general education courses before transferring to a four-year university, and to take non-degree classes for work or just interest. They are typically very large, sometimes with over 30,000 students. Community colleges often get a bad rap, but they serve a very vital purpose in the communities they are located in. They often offer job fairs, health services, libraries, and other services that the community can take advantage of.

Regional Colleges

Regional colleges typically serve the area where they’re located. They provide a convenient option for students who do not want to travel too far from home. A lot of the time they’re not too expensive, and the added sense of familiarity serves as a plus for many students and families.

Liberal Arts colleges

Liberal arts colleges serve a specific purpose. They focus on interdisciplinary studies for students who want a more well-rounded education. They are typically small and offer generalized degrees. The small faculty-to-student ratios and low cost attract many students, though the higher admission standards makes them more selective than other colleges.

State Universities

State universities are hard to miss. They are large, have an expansive network of dedicated alumni, and have a football team that your town is either for or against. They offer the largest selection of academic programs and majors, as well as generous in-state tuition costs for residents of the state. They are significant in that they create an entire culture in the town they are located and the towns around them, and many of them focus on research to help advance many fields.

HBCUs

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were established before 1964 with the intention of serving the Black community. A quick search online will tell you that there are 106 HBCUs in the United States. They can come in many different forms, from two-year to four-year, public to private. The mission of HBCUs is state to be to provide education to Black Americans, though in their current state they contain students from all races.

Hispanic Serving Institutions

Similar to BHCUs, Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) primarily serve Hispanic students, often hiring Hispanic and bilingual faculty to serve as a resource for the students that attend.

Proprietary Institutions (for-profit)

Proprietary Institutions, also known as for-profit institutions such as the University of Phoenix, are institutions that are run like businesses. Basically, the owners make a profit out of student fees. At face value, it is easy to see issues with this type of institution, and they indeed have received lots of criticism over the years. Supporters of proprietary institutions claim that universities that operate on a for-profit basis operate more efficiently, with these efficiencies leading to lower fees. Likewise, a profit-motivated university in theory leads to administrators working harder to fit the demands and needs of the students, and they would have the capability to do it much faster than universities running on state funding and endowments.

Independent Institutions (private)

Independent institutions, more commonly referred to as private institutions, operate similarly to public institutions except for the fact that they are less dependent on state and federal funds to operate. Since funding for private universities comes from student fees and tuition and not governing bodies, they are less prone to the limits and restrictions that state governments put on public universities. They are also generally better-funded, as seen by state-of-the-art equipment and campus buildings. The downside to these universities is the cost, as private universities can be quite expensive. Not only that, but private universities can be more controlling of the students they admit and the rules they must follow. For example, private religious universities can require students to attend religious services and to uphold particular practices while they are enrolled there.

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